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  A Nigerian, Joshua Usani was selected as the valedictorian for the 2011 graduation class of the City College of New York (CCNY). This did not come easy as Usani, who graduated ‘Summa Cum Laude’ at the top 3 per cent of the graduating class at CCNY, with a GPA of 3.9 out of 4.0, explained. He had spent four years, with no luck, of seeking admission to study medicine in Nigeria. This is fact most Nigerians can relate to, especially if you went through the country’s educational system. There is a myriad of challenges facing students seeking admission into the university and while a few posit that the problem is with the applicants, you cannot help but wonder how correct this assertion is. Well if you have any doubts as to the quality of students Usani’s achievement would erase every trace. Usani’s achievement seems to put in focus the Nigerian educational system and all the challenges that plague it. Writing the University Matriculation Examination (UME), now Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, four times with no success would leave one with the stigma as an academic failure. You can only but imagine the effect this would have on an individual’s self-confidence. Usani had this to say of his experience at CCNY: “The most amazing aspect of my experience at City College is the people that I have interacted with, from amazing classmates to professors that are personally invested in your success,” he said. “This incredible resource got me through rough times and placed me in a great position to achieve my goals.” Usani’s dream is to be a medical doctor was borne from watching his mother, a registered nurse, administer polio vaccines to children in Nigeria and this planted the seed to care for others in him leading to volunteering with an ambulance company in Lagos. Usani was particularly moved after he witnessed a doctor save a life and this created a resolve in him: “If I could touch people’s lives in this very basic, yet powerful way, the satisfaction I would receive would justify all the challenges associated with the pursuit of a medical career.” Usani’s dream however, did not come to fruition four years after leaving secondary school as he was still enmeshed in the bottled neck university admission system in Nigeria. It also did not help that his examination score increased every successive year, he still was not granted admission. As faith would have though, Usani’s mother secured a job in New York as a Nurse and he applied to CCNY where he had spent the last four years, after being admitted, studying Biology in preparation for medical school. Come autumn, Usani would be studying medicine at Mount Sinai University School of Medicine in New York and thereby following his dream of becoming a physician. Usani is part of the eight students who received the Salk Scholarship. The prestigious University awards, which provide an $8,000 stipend over three or four years to help defray medical school costs, recognize students who are judged likely to make significant contributions to medicine and research. Usani, a biology major, seeks to understand how the immune system attacks the body in autoimmune diseases, and to develop treatments. In his project, he used a confocal microscope to identify the distribution of lysosomes in specialized epithelial cells in the thymus. These thymic nurse cells are crucial in T-cell development. In addition to the Salk Scholarship, Usani won a scientific award at the 2009 CSTEP Conference, and the Edmund Baermann and Meyer & Gloria Fishman awards.  He also served as a chemistry workshop leader and is a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society and Phi Eta Sigma.  He likes to play basketball, piano and soccer and is interested in computer programming.  
About the Author Edward Chizea Nwosisi is a writer for He has a background in Law

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This article was first published on 5th April 2012 and updated on May 10th, 2012 at 12:48 pm

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